Current problems and concerns in Academic, firm, and county law libraries: Roundtable Minutes

WRITTEN BY Katy Frey, editing by Cindy Cicco.

Conducted by the members of the Western Pennsylvania Law Library Association

January 31, 2017

Cindy Cicco graciously hosted a gathering WPLLA members at Pepper Hamilton to discuss the problems in all types of Law Libraries in the Pittsburgh area.

Academic Libraries:

Kate Frey and Karen Shephard began the discussion of academic libraries with two problems, one is shrinking budgets and second a loss, or repurposing, of space.  Kate pointed out that monies cut during the recession of early in the 21st century would not be restored.  Also, that since many law libraries are cutting their print collections in favor of electronic online products, they have additional space which is being repurposed into things like study rooms or they are losing the space to other purposes for the law school.  As an example, Pitt is in process of getting rid of many of their periodicals in preparation for a major renovation.  The renovation is being fueled by the need to bring the clinics back to the main building, so the library will be losing a significant amount of space on the fourth floor.  After the periodicals are cleared, the fourth floor collection of state, reference and Pennsylvania materials, will be shifted to the fifth floor. Pat Roncevich further explained that although we are culling many periodicals each title is being reviewed as to whether it is on Hein Online and what Hein’s policy is about suppling current issues.  Joel Fishman added that Duquesne has not yet done away with their periodicals but that is probably a step they will take soon.

Rita Jones asked a question about whether curriculums at the schools had changed to more practical applications that the law students can actually use once out in the job market. The idea of more clinics was brought up.  Kate Frey said that finding faculty to teach the different clinic areas may be a deciding factor.  Pat Roncevich also discussed some new resources we have made available such as study guides.  These are items we normally would not have purchased but they are becoming more popular as more students find out about them, especially during exam time.

Law Firm Libraries:

Cindy Cicco opened this discussion with a question about Reference request systems such as Illumin and Quest.  Her question was basically is anyone using them, if so which one, and how did you decide which one to use?  A reference tracking system keeps track of requests, who is making the request, and how long it take to fulfill the request. This allows for statistical analysis of the requests and also provides a way to manage the workload among numerous offices and librarians.  Other systems discussed were Cherwell.  Lori Hagan said that she and her IT department at Reed Smith built their system from scratch.

Cindy also asked about Pennsylvania County Reporters, which are no longer available now that Smart Litigator is gone. Pat Roncevich replied that Pitt keeps the court reports and binds the decisions. Joel Fishman also said that Duquesne has some resources. Duquesne has reinstated the print subscriptions.

Rob asked a question about e-books and are any of the law firms using them.  The overall consensus was that they have not been well received for several reasons, the systems are not dynamic and fluid as lexis and westlaw.  Also, the hyperlinks often take you to the main page instead of to the particular item you want. Overall, the systems right now present more administrative headaches than anything else because they will often only print the entire thing, not just the section the lawyer wants etc. Kate Frey asked about e-books at Pitt, Pat Roncevich said there are some treatises.  The only really good e-book provider she has found is Cambridge who allows multiple people to use for one set price, unlike many vendor who limit the number of times a title can be used.  Another drawback being that with many of the licensing agreements for e-books they limit who can use them which often eliminate the public use.

Karen Erickson asked next about working with the firms IT department to setup up a library intranet page and how do you post items specific to one team or office location? Some law firms have an Electronic Resources Librarian who is responsible for setting up this sort of thing and maintaining it.  Some do curated group pages. Some do a general page on the library website broken down by category.  Ann Unger said her list of electronic items needs to be updated and she is looking into Lib Guides.  She will be setting up a meeting with a representative from Lib Guides is anyone else is interested in attending.

County Law Libraries

Joel and Patty Horvath said that County law libraries are also facing budget cuts and loss of resources.  A lot of patrons don’t understand the need for books and think everything is on electronic platforms.  Their clientele is split 50/50 between Attorney’s and public patrons.  They service a lot of small firms and sole practitioners who can’t afford the big platforms like Lexis, Westlaw, BNA and CCH.  The discussion morphed into a discussion of how to save on the databases, specifically was there any way to share?  The conclusion was no, because the vendors won’t allow it to be negotiated that way.  Could the participating WPLLA members come together to form a consortium?  The conclusion was no, but mention was made of the NELLCO consortium and the electronic platforms available through them at a significant savings.

Patty also mentioned that if there was a specific program, book, or periodical, that the firms needed the County Library would be happy to consider it, mention was made of Hein Online, PBI and PLI materials. Firm librarians would like to just get the part the firms need, say litigation or bankruptcy, but generally the way the contracts are written it an all or nothing deal. Between Pitt and the County Library and Duquesne we pretty much have everything from these publishers.


What a fun roundtable.  It was so nice to see the different ideas just flow. I personally learned a lot about the different libraries and how they interact.  Finding out that our problems are similar makes it easier to face them.  The brainstorming of different ideas on how to best use our strength as an organization to help make items available to the users was very uplifting.  The roundtable was very well attended and at least 3 people called in, although there was a problem with the phone participants hearing the people at the ends of the large conference table. To serve the legal community here is Pittsburgh is a privilege.  We all have different clientele but we all have the same purpose, to provide the best possible legal information available.


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